Not All Bad Words Have 4 Letters: Tips for developing a more positive perspective
One of my least favorite words is SHOULD. I am trying my best to eliminate it from my vocabulary completely. Easier said than done. What’s so bad about should? It turns even the most innocent of plans into a matter of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, success vs. failure.
For example: “I should eat more fruits and vegetables.” Sure, more fruits and veggies are great for my health, but when I use the word “should” in this statement, I feel a sense of burden and obligation. An apple suddenly sounds like a punishment, instead of a healthy snack. Now, I’m thinking if I don’t eat more fruits and veggies I’m really blowing it. I start beating myself up and my self-esteem suffers. However, if I tell myself “I want to eat more fruits and veggies so that I feel better and have more energy.” I am reminding myself that I am in control of my choices, and I am focusing on the benefits my healthy choice will bring me.
“Should” statements don’t work well relationships either. When I think about others in terms of “should,” it often leads to blame and anger. When I think to myself “my spouse should have called to tell me he was running late.” I find myself feeling frustrated. And, if I tell him “You should have called.” He is likely to feel criticized and respond defensively. Alternatively, if I say “I was worried. I wish you would have called” he is more likely to understand my feelings and be more aware next time.
Other versions of “should” include “have to” and “ought to.” They are all just as demoralizing. A simple change in wording can make a big difference in the emotional content of our thoughts and conversations. Here are some more examples, and some simple alternatives to get your mind going
“I should call my friend” Vs. “I want to call my friend.”
“I have to go to the bank.” Vs. “I am going to the bank.”
“I ought to exercise more” Vs. “I will feel better if I exercise more.”
“You should have remembered.” Vs. “I am disappointed that you didn’t remember.”
Should is just one of the 10 Automatic Negative Thoughts “ANTS” that I often help clients to overcome. Words, weather thought or spoken, have power. If find that your internal dialogue is bringing you down, let’s talk.
-Carla Munger, MA LMHC